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THE NORMAN POETS OF ENGLAND.
The first literary productions which call for attention after the Conquest, are a class which may be considered as in a great measure foreign to the country and its language. Before the invasion of England by William, poetical literature had begun to be cultivated in France with considerable marks of spirit and taste. The language, which from its origin was named Romane (lingua Romana),* was separated into two great divisions, that of the south, which is represented popularly by the Provençal, and that of the north, which was subdivided into French and Anglo-Norman, the latter dialect being that chiefly confined to our island. The poets of the south were called in their dialect trobadores, or troubadours, and those of the north were distinguished by the same title, written in their language trouveres. In Provence, there arose a series of elegant versifiers, who employed their talents in composing romantic and complimentary poems, full of warlike and amatory sentiment, which many of them made a business of reciting before assemblages of the great. Norman poets, writing with more plainness and simplicity, were celebrated even before those of Provençe; and one, named Taillefer, was the first man to break the English ranks at the battle of Hastings. From the preference of the Norman kings of England for the poets of their own country, and the general depression of Anglo-Saxon, it results that the distinguished literary names of the first two centuries after the Conquest are those of NORMAN POETS, men who were as frequently natives of France as of England. Philippe de Thaun, author of treatises on popular science in verse; Thorold, who wrote the fine romance of Roland; Samson de Nanteuil, who translated the proverbs of Solomon into French verse; Geoffroi Gaimar, author of a chronicle of the Anglo-Saxon kings; and David, a trouveere of considerable eminence, whose works are lost, were the most noted predecessors of one of much greater celebrity, named Maistre WACE, a native of Jersey. About 1160, Wace wrote, in his native French, a narrative poem entitled Le Brut D'Angleterre (Brutus of England). The chief hero was an imaginary son of Æneas of Troy, who was represented as having founded the state of Britain many centuries before the Christian era. This was no creation of the fancy of the Norman poet. He only translated a serious history, written a few years before in Latin by a monk named GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH, in which the affairs of Britain were traced with all possible gravity through a series of imaginary kings, beginning with Brutus of Troy, and ending with Cadwallader, who was said to have lived in the year 689 of the Christian era.
This history is a very remarkable work, on account of its origin, and its effects on subsequent literature. The Britons, settled in Wales, Cornwall, and Bretagne, were distinguished at this time on account of the numberless fanciful and fabulous legends which they possessed-a traditionary kind of literature resembling that which has since been found amongst the kindred people of the Scottish Highlands. For centuries past, Europe had been supplied with tale and fable from the teeming fountain of Bretagne, as it now is with music from Italy, and metaphysics from Germany. Walter Calenius, archdean of Oxford, collected some of these of a professedly his
* Any book written in this tongue was cited as the livre Romans (liber Romanus), and most frequently as simply the Romans: as a great portion of these were works of fiction, the term has since given rise to the word now in general use,
torical kind relating to England, and communicated them to Geoffrey, by whom they were put into the form of a regular historical work, and introduced for the first time to the learned world, as far as a learned world then existed. As little else than a bundle of incredible stories, some of which may be slightly founded on fact, this production is of small worth; but it supplied a ground for Wace's poem, and proved an unfailing resource for the writers of romantic narrative for the ensuing two centuries; nor even in a later age was its influence exhausted; for from it Shakspeare drew the story of Lear, and Sackville that of Ferrex and Porrex, while Drayton reproduces much of it in his Polyolbion, and it has given occasion to many allusions in the poems of Milton and others.*
Maistre Wace also composed a History of the Normans, under the title of the Roman de Rou, that is, the Romance of Rollo, first Duke of Normandy, and some other works. Henry II., from admiration of his writings, bestowed upon him a canonry in the cathedral of Bayeux. Benoit, a contemporary of Wace, and author of a History of the Dukes of Normandy; and Guernes, an ecclesiastic of Pont St Maxence, in Picardy, who wrote a metrical life of Thomas à Becket, are the other two Norman poets of most eminence whose genius or whose writings can be connected with the history of English literature. These writers composed most frequently in rhymed couplets, each line containing eight syllables.†
COMMENCEMENT OF THE PRESENT FORM OF ENGLISH.
Of the century following the Conquest, the only other compositions that have come down to us as the production of individuals living in, or connected
*Ellis's Metrical Romances.
Ellis's Specimens, i., 35-59. A short passage from Wace's description of the ceremonies and sports presumed to have taken
place at King Arthur's coronation, will give an idea of the writings of the Norman poets. It is extracted from Mr Ellis's work, with his notes:
'Quant li rois leva del mangier,
Et les incaux chevalx monstrer:
A ceulx qui d'autres terres estoient,
1 To amuse themselves. 2 To just. 3 Fleet (isnel). To leap Fieffa, gave fiefs. * He gave them livries of lands.
with, England, are works written in Latin by learned
SPECIMENS OF ANGLO-SAXON AND ENGLISH
[Extract from the Saxon Chronicle, 1154.]
Tauresfeld. That ministre hi makiden. Tha the
On this yær ward the King Stephen ded, and
Literally translated thus:-'A. D. 1154. In this year was the King Stephen dead, and buried where his wife and his son were buried, at Touresfield. That minister they made. When the king was dead, then was the earl beyond sea. And not durst no man do other but good for the great awe of him. When he to England came, then was he received with great worship; and to king consecrated in London, on the Sunday before mid-winter-day (Christmas day).'
[Extract from the account of the Proceedings at Arthur's Coronation, given by Layamon, in his translation of Wace, executed about 1180.] *
We have already seen short specimens of the Anglo-Saxon prose and verse of the period prior to the Conquest. Perhaps the best means of making clear the transition of the language into its present form, is to present a continuation of these specimens, extending between the time of the Conquest and the reign of Edward I. It is not to be expected that these specimens will be of much use to the reader, on account of the ideas which they convey; but, considered merely as objects, or as pictures, they will not be without their effect in illustrating the history of our literature.
Tha the king+ igeten1 hafde
And heore here-thringes.
*The notes are by Mr Ellis, with corrections.
+ The original of this passage, by Wace, is given in an earlier page.
2 Multitude of attendants. Sax.
3 Fled. Then fled out of the town the people very quickly. Their throngs of servants.
6 Fairly dressed.
6 Held (their way) through the fields.
9 To run.
8 To discharge arrows. 10 To shoot or throw darts.
11 Made, or played at, wither-games, Sax. (games of emulation), that is, justed.
12 Some they on field played under shield; that is, fought with swords.
13 Many a kind of game there they gan urge.' Dringen (Dutch), is to urge, press, or drive.
14 And whoso might win worship by his gaming.
15 Him they led with song before the people's king." Me, a word synonymous with the French on.
16 Gave him givings, gifts.
Alle tha quene1
He gef seolver, he gæf gold,
[Extract from a Charter of Henry III., ▲. D. 1258, in the common language of the time.]
Henry, thurg Godes fultome, King on Engleneloande, Lhoaverd on Yrloand, Duk on Norman, on Acquitain, Earl on Anjou, send I greting, to alle hise holde, ilærde and ilewede on Huntindonnschiere. Thæt witen ge wel alle, that we willen and unnen, that ure rædesmen alle other the moare del of heom, that beoth ichosen thurg us and thurg that loandes-folk on ure kineriche, habbith idon, and schullen don in the worthnes of God, and ure treowthe, for the freme of the loande, thurg the besigte of than toforen iseide rædesmen, &c.
Literal translation:- -'Henry, through God's support, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy, of Acquitain, Earl of Anjou, sends greeting to all his subjects, learned and unlearned, of Huntingdonshire. This know ye well all, that we will and grant, what our counsellors all, or the more part of them, that be chosen through us and through the land-folk of our kingdom, have done, and shall do, to the honour of God, and our allegiance, for the good of the land, through the determination of the beforesaid counsellors,' &c.
THE RHYMING CHRONICLERS.
Layamon may be regarded as the first of a series of writers who, about the end of the thirteenth century, began to be conspicuous in our literary history, which usually recognises them under the general appellation of the RHYMING CHRONICLERS. The first, at a considerable interval after Layamon, was a monk of Gloucester Abbey, usually called from that circumstance ROBERT OF GLOUCESTER, and who lived during the reigns of Henry III. and Edward I. He wrote, in long rhymed lines (Alexandrines), a history of England from the imaginary Brutus to his own time, using chiefly as his authority the Latin history by Geoffrey of Monmouth, of which Wace and Layamon had already given Norman French and Saxon versions.* The work is described by Mr Warton as destitute of art and imagination, and giving to the fabulous history, in many parts, a less poetical air than it bears in Geoffrey's prose. The language is full of Saxon peculiarities, which might partly be the result of his living in so remote a province as Gloucestershire. Another critic acknowledges that, though cold and prosaic, Robert is not deficient in the valuable talent of arresting the attention. The orations with
1 All the queens who were come to the festival, and all the ladies, leaned over the walls to behold the nobles there, and that folk play."
2 This lasted three days, such games and such plays.
3 Then, on the fourth day, the king went to council?
And gave his good knights all their rights or rewards. 6 He satisfied.
*Robert's Chronicle, from a particular allusion, is supposed to have been written, at least in part, after 1297.
[The Muster for the First Crusade.]
A good pope was thilk time at Rome, that hechtl Urban,
That preached of the creyserie, and creysed mony man. Therefore he send preachers thorough all Christendom, And himself a-this-side the mounts? and to France
And preached so fast, and with so great wisdom,
Ne young folk [that] feeble were, the while the voyage y-last.
So that Robert Curthose thitherward his heart cast, And, among other good knights, ne thought not be the last.
He wends here to Englond for the creyserie,
To wend with to the holy lond, and that was somedeal stark. * #
The Earl Robert of Flanders mids him wend also, And Eustace Earl of Boulogne, and mony good knight
There wend the Duke Geoffrey, and the Earl Baldwin there,
And the other Baldwin also, that noble men were,
had on hond,
And Robert's sister Curthose espoused had to wive.
1 Was called. 2 Passed the mountains-namely, the Alps.
3 Was quickly taken up. 4 Take. 5 Since never more. 6 Even women did not remain. 7Towed, in pledge, in pawn. 8 With. 9 Beyond reckoning.
[The Siege of Antioch.]
Tho wend forth this company, with mony a noble
And won Tars with strength, and syth Toxan.
And they within again' them stalwartly cast.
And the Christian wend again, mid the prey that they
In the month of Feverer the Saracens eftsoon Yarked them a great host (as they were y-wont to done),
And went toward Antioch, to help their kind blood,
Of the thrid the good Raymond; the ferth the good man
And as stalwart men to-gather fast set,
The Duke Godfrey all so good on the shouldren smote
And forclave him all that body to the saddle anon. The one half fell adown anon, the other beleved still In the saddle, theigh it wonder were, as it was God's will; This horse bear forth this half man among his fellows each one,
1 Thence. 4 Six parties. 7 Fresh.
And they, for the wonder case, in dread fell anon. What for dread thereof, and for strength of their fon,8 More joy than there was, nas never i-see none.
In beginning of Lent this battle was y-do, And yet soon thereafter another there come also. For the Saracens in Paynim yarked folk enow, And that folk, tho it gare was,9 to Antioch drew. Tho the Christians it underget, again they wend fast, So that they met them, and smit an battle at last.
So that at a narrow brig there adrent1 mony one.
Tho the Saracens it i-see, they were some deal in fear, And held them all overcome. The Christians anon
soonBy the uprising of God, Robelin, me shall i-see, Curthose my young son stalward knight shall be.' For he was some deal short, he cleped him Curthose, And he ne might never eft afterward thilk name lose. Other lack had he nought, but he was not well long; He was quaint of counsel and of speech, and of body strong.
And this town up this luther? men as for nought nome,
[Description of Robert Curthose.]
He was William's son bastard, as I have i-said ere i-lome,3
And well i-wox4 ere his father to Englond come.
Never yet man ne might, in Christendom, ne in Paynim,
In battle him bring adown of his horse none time.
In the list of Rhyming Chroniclers, Robert of Gloucester is succeeded by ROBERT MANNING, a Gilbertine canon in the monastery of Brunne or Bourne, in Lincolnshire (therefore usually called Robert de Brunne), who flourished in the latter part of the reign of Edward I., and throughout that of Edward II. He translated, under the name of a Handling of Sins, a French book, entitled Manuel des Pêches, the composition of William de Wadington, in which the seven deadly sins are illustrated by legendary stories. He afterwards translated a French chronicle of England, which had been written by Peter de Langtoft, a contemporary of his own, and an Augustine canon of Bridlington in Yorkshire. Manning has been characterised as an industrious, and, for the time, an elegant writer, possessing, in particular, a great command of rhymes. The verse adopted in his chronicle is shorter than that of the Gloucester monk, making an approach to the octosyllabic stanza of modern times. The following is one of the most spirited passages, in reduced spelling:
1 Were drowned. • Grown.
9 Wicked. 8 Frequently before. Square. 6 Seeing his sturdy doings.
[The interview of Vortigern with Rowen, the beautiful Daughter of Hengist.]
Hengist that day did his might,
And gave the king, syne him kissed.
He loved peace at his might;
[Praise of Good Women.] (From the Handling of Sins.) Nothing is to man so dear As woman's love in good manner. A good woman is man's bliss, Where her love right and stedfast is. There is no solace under heaven, Of all that a man may neven,4 That should a man so much glew,5 As a good woman that loveth true: Ne dearer is none in God's hurd,6 Than a chaste woman with lovely wurd.
ENGLISH METRICAL ROMANCES.
HE rise of Romantic Fiction in Europe has been traced to the most opposite quarters; namely, to the Arabians and to the Scandinavians. It has also been disputed, whether a politer kind of poetical literature was first cultivated in Normandy or in Provence. Without entering into these perplexing questions, it may be enough to state, that romantic fiction appears to have been cultivated from the eleventh century downwards, both by the troubadours of Provençe and by the Norman poets, of whom some account has already been given. As also already hinted, a class of persons had arisen, named Joculators, Jongleurs, or Minstrels, whose business it was to wander about from one mansion to another, reciting either their own compositions, or those of other persons, with the accompaniment of the harp. The histories and chronicles, already spoken of, partook largely of the character of these romantic tales, and were hawked about in the same manner. Brutus, the supposed son of Eneas of Troy, and who is described in those histories as the founder of the English state, was as much a hero of romance 1 Went. 2 Breadthways. 3 Broke, destroyed. 5 Delight. • Family.